Felix is going to South Africa!

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I was contacted yesterday by Fergus Klein – Sussex University (Mohawks) alumni from 2013-14. Since graduating and moving back to Johannesburg, Fergus has got massively involved in Ultimate, and is now chairperson of the Gauteng region of South Africa – they have around 100 league players and 500 kids currently playing Ultimate!

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The sun does not appear bigger in Africa because it’s closer to the equator.

South Africa (RSA) entered teams into the Men’s, Women’s, and Men’s Masters divisions of WUGC 2016, and at U23 Worlds 2015 their mixed team played against the GB team I was coaching, in the match for 5th place. Now they are hungry for more Ultimate knowledge & coaching techniques – to boost the development of the game in the country and raise the top level!

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It’s currently being discussed within the Gauteng Ultimate committee, but the proposed idea is that I fly over for 3 weeks around March – half spent in Johannesburg, half spent in Cape Town, with a visit to Kruger National Park in the middle. That’s a park with impala, buffalo, zebra, elephant, rhinoceros, lions, leopards, giraffe, hippopotamus, black mamba, pythons, crocodiles, vultures, eagles…

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I couldn’t find a picture with all the animals together for some reason

I heard that the RSA Masters team were playing Mex Offence at WUGC 2016 but I was too busy filming/commentating to check them out, and had no idea how it came to be – now the jigsaw pieces are starting to fall into place! It was Fergus’ idea and apparently it’s the “in” formation at the moment – he says “all the good teams in SA are using it now!”

I’m really looking forward to the trip, where I’ll get to see Fergus and Ant Pascoe again (teammate from 2001-03 Smash & Grab era) – having never been anywhere in Africa before, I also can’t wait to check out the wondrous and abundant nature; maybe I’ll find some good hills / mountains to run up!

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Like the Guateng Ultimate Facebook page

EUCF 2016 report & play-by-play of the Open Final

EUCF 2016 is the 10th European Ultimate Club Finals, it was held in

Sunday:
Open final play-by-play, as it happened:

Clapham with a stifling zone at the start, after the first point Funk had a couple of turnovers, a few points traded and a break for CUSB. 4-4.
Clapham working it well but footblock from CUSB and the score. 5-4 CUSB
CUSB show great awareness of the stall count as a team to get a D with the wall and then the stream dies. Comes back and it’s 6-4 La Fotta.
Couple of travel calls. La Fotta with a zone, some fouling on the mark from Davide. Ashley Yeo with another score from Justin, 6-5.
Huge Justin sky after a floaty CUSB huck – will be a good photo! Timeout.
Long possession with only short passes, Clapham work it up the line and bring it level, 6-6. Stream dies.
It’s back and I’ve missed a couple of turns, then Chris Baker sends a flick skyward but gets saved by newcomer Connor McHale. Contested foul. Conrad Wilson with the Clapham score, 7-6 Clapham, then they take half 8-6.
Justin with a layout catch on a lateral cut, then a big hammer across to Ashley Yeo who lays out big for 9-6.
CUSB mis-throw and then Briggs to Jackson deep with a flick – 10-6. Timeout – feels like a push coming from CUSB but they have to put in their offence…
Deep throw by CUSB just out of the reach of defender Garner, 10-7.
Clapham timeout on stall 8, they get out after a false re-start, Stobbs cuts up line for 11-7 score.
Floaty mistake mid-field from La Fotta and Clapham sustain their offence outside the end zone to score, 12-7.
Tom Abrams with the layout D on Davide, quick move up the line for 13-7.
La Fotta trapped at the back of their end zone, manage to complete a huck but then another unforced error on the next throw. Clapham bomb it deep to Andrew Jackson for another goal, 14-7. Stream is dropping in and out quite a lot.
A couple of turnovers before another unforced error for La Fotta, this time on their own goal line, and Clapham pick it up quickly and slot it in for the win! 15-7, Clapham are EUCF 2016 champions!

Women’s Final:

CUSB Shout put in a good performance against Flying Angels in the women’s final, with Eliza Frangalini making many huge grabs for them, but FAB’s experience shone through as they closed the game out 15-13. The match turned into quite a huckfest, both up and down wind, many contested catches and D’s in traffic.

Mixed Final:

After a fantastic domestic season where they took the UKU Nationals title, Reading secured their first EUCF title by defeating the very young team Grüt (FC Airborn, Netherlands) in the Mixed Final – this Reading side are incredibly strong and didn’t have many problems, dealing with the unpredictable and brave offence of Grüt – 15-8 the final score.

Saturday:

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Semis:
Clapham 15 – 8 Tchac:
Tchac’s fairytale rise gets firmly stopped by the UK powerhouse. Tchac’s unconventional style got them a few points and some incredible layout blocks, but Clapham seemed solid and confidently put away the game. Clapham’s Justin Foord connected with Ashley Yeo for the winning point.

Bad Skid 11 – 14 CUSB La Fotta:
The firey Italians, after a heated battle with Switzerland’s Freespeed in the quarter, had the edge on Germany’s Bad Skid and secured their spot in the Final for the second year running.

Clapham vs CUSB La Fotta is a repeat of the EUCF 2015 final, where Clapham won 15-8.

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Semis:
Iceni 14 – 15 CUSB Shout:
Last year these two teams met in the group stages, and Iceni won 12-11. This time, the Italian side CUSB Shout got their revenge and denied the reigning champions a place in the Final, in another exciting universe point match.

Troubles 10 – 15 Flying Angels Bern:
Switzerland’s FAB bring the Polish “Troubles” team’s good run to an end with a  5 point cushion.

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Semis:
FC Airborn 15 – 14 Hässliche Erdferkel:
Netherlands’ FC Airborn (“Grut”), with players ranging from 14 – 25 years old and an average age of 19 (the 54-year old coach is one of their fathers) have a very exciting style where they are not afraid to huck to double cuts and find unexpected spaces with their throws, and it paid off for them as they took this thrilling semi final in sudden death against the German Hässliche Erdferkel team.

Reading Ultimate 15 – 10 SeE6:
UK’s top mixed team Reading with a fairly comfortable win over the Swedish SeE6 side.


Playoff bracket graphics with scores: OpenWomen’sMixed

Scores, Groups, Results & Standings website
Clapham v Otso – last two points (universe point)

Southampton Hex Clinic

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Hex Clinic on Sunday in Southampton

Liam Kelley from the UKU got in touch about running a one-day UKU Level 1 Coaching Course in Southampton, and I figured it’d be a good time to start getting Hex Clinics on the road in the UK! I would deliver the Level 1 UKU Course on Saturday, and a Hex Clinic on the Sunday. I stayed in and AirBnB in Eastleigh, a couple of miles from Southampton, and rode my bike to the University in the morning.

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Seventeen people turned up for the L1 course, including captains from St Marys / Southampton / Exeter Universities, Clapham/GB player Magnet, and reps from Guildford including Elliott J – the up-and-coming 15 year old Ultimate-playing-trickshot-star.

It was great to see so many Uni captains in particular taking the L1 coaching course, which I hope have a great positive impact on their teams. After the course I cycled towards the river Itchen which runs through Southampton, and noticed a group throwing an Ultrastar around on the green. I joined in and met Mike – he played Ultimate at Bath Uni and could spot a fellow Ultimate player a mile away. He doesn’t play at the moment as unfortunately there isn’t a club in Southampton – hopefully in the future one will emerge, perhaps when alumni who remain in the city want to keep Ultimate in their lives. As I understand it, current club players from Southampton play for county-wide team Hampshire Ultimate.

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After a good throw, I headed along the river on my bike, going past a 300 year old lock. Barges on canals were the most efficient way to transport goods around the UK before railways.

 

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The plaque was covered by brambles. Can you find & name the animal?

 

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The paths along the river Itchen go all the way to Winchester.

 

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A bridge and a pipe-bridge.

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The water was very clear.

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Something really freaks me out when I go through these concrete river-tunnels. Takes a fair amount of self-restraint not to break into a run

 

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As day turned to night, I happened across a lovely riverside pub for dusk dinner.

Next day at the Hex Clinic we had 10 attendees, all active Skunks players (Southampton Uni), with elements of Punt, Reading, Guildford and Hampshire. The theory session on Flex went really well, then we went outside into the sunshine and I tried out a couple of new Flex drills – the Skunks smashed them!

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Triangle-Sandwich Drill

In the Triangle-Sandwich Drill they were using both sandwiching and switching really well  – next time I think I’ll start with a ‘no-switching’ rule before developing it into full sandwiching & switching, to make sure everyone is developing their sandwiching skills.

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Switch Drill

In the Switch Drill, where a 1v1 cutting situation plays out near a static O/D (who can only be activated by a ‘switch’ call from the active 1v1 D player), everyone was picking the right moments to switch (or stick), as well as closing down the newly-activated O player quickly to complete the switch. Next time I’ll add in another O/D pair to be activated and see what develops from that (switching in & out of sandwiches!). I’ll also take more photos of the outdoor frisbee stuff!

It feels like some huge steps forward were taken at this weekend’s Hex Clinic. Finally we have some proper Flex drills! Plus the course material gets better and better with each Clinic. I’m excited to introduce the new drills to another group soon – possibly the next Hex Clinic will be in Exeter. If you’d like a Hex Clinic in your city & you can help with getting a venue, get in touch!

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Train journey home on Sunday night took me to strange places (who ever thought there was a West Croydon?) and lasted several hours – more than enough time to write this article.

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Chat with Mario O’Brien

[–]riseupmario[S] 1 point

overall yea it all sounds like it could work, just a matter of refining and testing it. I’m a true believer in the idea of ‘anything strategically can work if everyone’s on the same and it’s executed well’. Just gotta keep self-evolving as much as possible.

In general my idea on switching/sandwiching is that it can and does work, situationally, but defenses that get overly switchy are too risky and against smart cutters and great handlers/throwers… you’re setting yourself up for 1 throw that breaks the ice and then never catching up. Fact: most top elite handlers break any mark they want, even the best marks, so if you blow a switch and leave someone open for a split second, they get the disc and boom everyone’s scrambling to catch up… and if you switch at the wrong time when the thrower’s mark is out of position, it’s several easy throws in a row.

Again, not saying it can’t be done, just telling you what I see at the top… and I’d say Sockeye is as experimental as any team out there in terms of trying new/unconventional things… maybe Japan has us beat 😉

[–]riseupmario[S] 1 point

sweet. can’t wait to play against it 😉 or play in it sometime!

Chatting to Mario helped me clarify my thoughts on & for the first time verbalise how poaching causes the progressive collapse of Flex D. I’ve now incorporated this specific example into the Flex theory clinic – it now feels like there is a frame in place, and we’re no longer fumbling in the dark trying to figure out & define ‘smart defence’; we’re working out what fills the frame & where the holes are. The task for the first time feels relatively finite.

I’ve got a lot of time for Sockeye – I hung out with them a little in Prague during WUCC 2010, I love a team that knows how to play hard, party, and isn’t afraid to innovate on the field and openly discuss new strategies and tactics.

To read Mario’s full AMA click here, and be sure to check out his new ULTACADEMY project.

felixultimate in Latvia – report

Last week I was in Latvia, delivering a Hexagon Ultimate Clinic.

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Sunset in Riga’s suburbs, Soviet-era accommodation on the left

I was staying in Riga, which has a mix of modern and old orthodox-style architecture in the centre, whilst the suburban landscape is dominated by the huge Soviet-era accommodation buildings often seen in the Baltic states. There are no houses near the city – everybody lives in these huge (9 or 12 storey, and very wide) blocks of flats, where it is traditional to stay up late sitting in the kitchen drinking vodka and chatting about life, politics, philosophy, and everything in-between.

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Pine trees just outside the suburbs. Easy to get lost in after sunset!

Just outside the city limits are huge pine tree forests, which are perfectly suited for night time gatherings, as groups head out before the sun goes down to find one of the countless nice spots for a fire – the undulating terrain creating picturesque and unique areas for dozens of groups each a few dozen yards away from each other.

On Saturday I travelled to Ogre, the geographic centre of Latvia, to deliver a 7-hour clinic on Hex strategies. 30 players from all over Latvia attended, 1/3rd of them were juniors, gender was split 50-50, and they came from 8 teams from all over the country – from the coast with the Baltic Sea on the East, to the border with Russia on the west.

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In the classroom for the theory part of the Flexagon clinic

Indoors is the preferred division in Latvia – with 12 men’s and 4 women’s teams competing. For outdoors, there are about 8 men’s teams and ~5 women’s teams.

The spread of experience at the clinic was great – some players had been playing one year, some fifteen – but they all helped each other to understand the new concepts being discussed, and everybody I spoke to felt like they got something valuable out of the clinic. When learning Flex, sandwiching players was new to some and uncommon to others, but I saw plenty of it happening during the game, and I noticed a few pro-active (not reactive) switches in there too. We had less time to play Mex Offence, and split the group into two games based on ability/experience – simply having all these players together in the same place, at the same time, playing alongside each other as team mates rather than opponents was quite a new experience for all of the attendees, as inter-team mingling does not happen so much in Latvia.

latvia-hex-workshop-selfie-3I hope some connections were made or strengthened between the teams present, and that the new ideas are spread by the attending players when they return to their clubs – maybe we will see some hex elements incorporated into Latvian Ultimate in the years to come, as the next generation players mature and explore the various facets of the strategies for themselves! Set plays are very popular in Latvia, with vertical stack being the dominant offensive strategy played outdoors, and a lot of focus put on athleticism to beat your mark to the open side. Hopefully the principles of Hex style Ultimate will add a new dimension to the Latvian style, or at least an interesting alternative.

Big thanks to Edgars Dimpers, a Latvian who has been playing in Brighton for the last 8 years and did a full translation of the classroom material, and to Jekabs and Ogre Ultimate for booking the venue and hosting the clinic, and to the players from all the clubs who attended: Sirocco Ultimate, Ultimate Decision, KCN Riga, Valimera, Ventspils VFK, Nightwatch / Moments OFK, Salaspils WT / JR, and Flying Worms VFK.

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Players from all around Latvia gather for a photo after the clinic

 

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View from Skyline Bar in the centre

 

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Hexagon spotted

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Gathering in the forest just before sunset

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Skyline Bar – above Riga

360 degree view from Skyline Bar’s windows (attempt) | 360 degree view from inside Skyline Bar

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Latvian cat, startled

University Taster Sessions Guide

This article is aimed at University clubs who want to recruit and develop players from a very large, very inexperienced group of freshers turning up to taster sessions at the start of the year. This is a guide for how the returning players can teach basic catching and throwing techniques, and how to behave in the games to ensure everyone has a good time and wants to return. When experienced players are able to teach basic techniques to incoming players, the speed at which freshers improve increases dramatically, and when experienced players know how to play in a fresher-friendly way during the first weeks of term, the retention of players skyrockets. The first step to getting this working within your club is to connect with the returning players before term starts, and make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to interacting with the freshers.

Throwing around

When a fresher arrives at their first training or taster session, they should be welcomed by an experienced player, and invited to throw a Frisbee around for 15-20 minutes – in pairs or in as small a group as possible, with one experienced player per group. After a few throws, the experienced player should ask if the fresher would like some tips on their catching or throwing. It’s important to ask this question and get a ‘yes’ answer, as then the fresher has psychologically ‘bought in’ and will be eager to listen to what you have to say. Make sure the first thing you do is pay them a compliment.

When teaching catching technique, focus on just a few important points:

Move your feet to get your chest behind the disc
– Use both hands, clap catch in the centre of the disc with both hands hitting it at the same time
– Watch the disc into your hands

Throwing technique involves four sequential points:
1. Footwork – step out wide at 90 degrees, bend at the knees
2. Grip – fingers tight inside the rim for the backhand (index finger where it feels comfortable); power grip for the side-arm (index and middle finger together, not split)
3. Release (backhand) – rotate body, drop shoulder, coil wrist, release at or below knee height, with outside edge pointing slightly down
4. Spin – snap the wrist more

The order of these four points is critical. Don’t teach the fresher about grip until they have their footwork sorted, don’t teach them about the release until they have their grip sorted, and so on. Focus on one point at a time, give them a compliment every time you give them a tip, and try to relate the usefulness of the movements to the game. Remember at all times that you are setting an example with your own throwing and catching, and a lot of players learn by watching rather than listening, so be a model player with clap catches at your chest and wide, low pivots – “classic” technique.

Playing Ultimate

After these 15-20mins of throwing in small groups, it’s time to play. Remember that when a fresher comes to Ultimate practice for the first time, they don’t want to learn how to play great Ultimate; they just want to play. They certainly don’t want to be told to stand in a line and run in a particular direction for no apparent reason, so skip any drills and go straight into games.

Split the players into groups of 4-6 beginners with 2 experienced players, to play 4v4 / 5v5 games (not 6v6+). Whilst the pitches are being set up, the 2 experienced players per team should briefly explain the basic rules and have a chat for a few minutes to get to know their team. Make the pitches big enough for a good run around – 20 meters wide by 40 meters long with 3 meter deep end zones is reasonable. If the beginners can be split into groups with some pre-existing connections (friends, living in same accommodation, course mates etc.), this is even better and will really help retention.

There are 5 basic rules for the experienced players to explain in their teams:
1) You score 1pt by catching a pass in the opposing team’s end zone
2) You can’t run with the disc – it can only be advanced by throws
3) An incomplete pass (drop, throw away) or an interception (knock down or caught) is a turn over, and the other team get possession going in the other direction
4) It’s non-contact, so you can’t yank the disc out of someone’s hands and there’s no pushing before/during catches
5) It’s self-refereed, so call your own infractions and decide between players what happened and how the game should continue.

It can be good to talk more about Spirit of the Game / self-refereeing before the games start, and during the game make sure that everyone stops for any clear fouls & that the related rules are explained to the players, who should come to their own agreement about what happened. Freshers won’t often stop the game – you have that responsibility.

Below are some general points to remember when playing Ultimate with freshers so that they have fun, learn, and want to come back. When on offence:

– Let freshers pick up the disc if they want to. Progress to calling a couple of people at the start of the point who will pick up the disc and make sure you rotate through everyone.
Throw slow, flat, easy to catch passes, both for short and long throws, even if they are easier to intercept.
– Throw when the cutter wants it, even if you know it’ll be intercepted. In the worst case, the defender does a good thing, and your team mate feels you trust them.
– Let your team know you’re always there for the easy pass if they need it, but don’t demand the disc, don’t reprimand speculative shots, and try to always be a hittable option for the thrower.
– Don’t teach a formation (such as stack) unless the freshers ask about strategy – it’s too much information at this point. Better to work from principles around creating and using space. Under no circumstances stand over the disc waiting for everyone to ‘stack up’, or pick up the disc and demand ‘cuts’. The game might seem like chaos, but this doesn’t mean the freshers aren’t enjoying themselves more than they would if it were disciplined.
Put up long shots, especially if it’s getting crowded around the disc. This will encourage deep cuts and throws in future points, and will also give freshers the unique experience of chasing down a long throw… an experience which in itself can be enough to get a fresher hooked.
– Ensure everyone is getting disc time by being mindful of who you’re looking to pass to. Calling a ‘string’ play helps with this (player A looks to player B, who looks to player C, etc.).

Then when on defence:

– Don’t teach the stall count (or stall anybody) for the first week, it only adds pressure and complicates things. Forces should be loose.
– If marking another experienced player, let them get free when and where they want around the disc. After summer it’s tempting to play hard against your peers, but you must resist. If the experienced player you’re marking goes for the end zone though, go for an amazing interception.
– If marking a beginner, let them get free too, though mark them out when they start clogging space around the disc as it’ll encourage them to clear out. If the genders on the pitch aren’t balanced, it can be better for an experienced player to mark a female fresher instead of another experienced player.
No poaching. It’s not a challenge to get a poach D in a game with beginners – especially when you’re already out of position due to letting players get the disc as detailed above – and it’s not fun for anyone else.
– No point blocks or even stopping break throws – you want throws to either be completed or be intercepted by beginners. If an experienced player wants to break you, let them. If a beginner looks like they’re going to throw it into your force, get out of the way. Don’t let your team know you’re not pulling in the same direction as them on defence – make it look like you’re concentrating and playing hard – but be ineffective.
– Don’t teach strategy, such as forcing one way, unless the freshers ask, or if you’re nearing the end of the session and your team has a good understanding. Better to work from principles and simple instructions – man defence can simply be explained by saying, “if they throw the disc to your man, catch it before he does”.
– When marking confident or athletic beginners, raise the intensity to give them a proper challenge. Some freshers won’t come back if you intercept their throws or mark them out, while other freshers won’t come back unless they get a tough challenge and are shown what they can achieve, so play it by ear.

In general when playing a game:

– When two experienced players are involved in a foul and have a subsequent discussion, remember you are setting an example for all the other freshers, so explain your point of view honestly, clearly and respectfully, and settle the call in the ‘proper’ fashion – a joke between friends may be misunderstood by freshers.
– For violations such as travels, picks, and close in/out calls, and not quite being in the end zone for a score, only stop the game if it’s a fresher who notices the violation – even if it affects the play, it’s much better for the game to continue if the freshers don’t notice.

Finally, remember it is your responsibility as an experienced player to ensure everyone on the pitch is having a good time, and not just your team. You could be scoring every time and thus feel everything is going great, but think about your opposition, and adjust your tactics accordingly (having your weaker freshers pick up the disc, for example, or attempt an exciting deep throw against their best defender).

Exit / retention strategy

After the games it’s good to circle up and let the freshers know how your club works – for example, everyone is welcome to continue coming along even if they didn’t have a good practice that day, and that over the year they’ll all be taught everything they need to know to go from a noob to a good player. Mention beginner tournaments, fun tournaments, the BUCS league and Nationals, so you’ll retain the competitive freshers who will be trying to get onto your 1st / 2nd team from the start, as well as those who simply enjoy the game and will make your club socials great. It can be good to have a big game (like a showgame) after everyone finished, so let everyone know that some people are going straight to the pub (on campus near where you train, hopefully), and some are sticking around to play a quick game of 7 vs. 7 first, where freshers are welcome to join in.

This game should be on a full size pitch, with as close to a 4:3 gender split as possible, and everyone playing proper, hard Ultimate, hopefully showing what the freshers can aim for. Again, don’t call picks or travels, but do call and discuss fouls properly when they occur. After a couple of points invite freshers to get on the line and join in – there will always be a few that are keen. Make sure the experienced players try to persuade their team mates from the 5-aside games to get on the pitch, and to sub out for any freshers that show interest in playing. You may only get a handful of freshers joining in, but they will likely love the experience of being on a big pitch with so many experienced players, and they’ll appreciate greatly how they have been given the opportunity to play in a fairly high level game at their first session.

After the session, make sure as many freshers as possible come to the pub, and then talk to them! It’s very tempting to catch up with your team mates who you haven’t seen all summer, but there are better times for that, so be mindful of who you’re chatting with. Go out of your way and make it your responsibility to get every fresher talking, as it can easily make the difference between them never coming back, and them captaining the team in two years time. The confident and athletic freshers will want to hear about the GB Junior and GB U23 opportunities available to them if they stick with Ultimate – they want to be challenged and they want to know it’s possible for them to achieve greatness. There will also be freshers who want to take up a sport but hate the ethos of rugby and football so now is a great time for them to find out if the vibe of your club is something they can enjoy.

By applying the advice given here at your taster sessions, your freshers will hopefully enjoy their first experiences of Ultimate and become hooked in no time. By ensuring all experienced players learn these guidelines before the fresher intake each year, hopefully the recruitment and retention rates for your club will keep growing, and thus lead to huge performance gains.

– Felix Shardlow
Felix has been coaching the Sussex University Mohawks since 2003 & Brighton Panthers since 2011

St Andrews – the bright bubble

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Ruins of the cathedral – Google’s own interpretation of my original photo

Every year, one week before term starts, St Andrews have a “pre-season” week of trainings, and this year I was invited as a guest coach – primarily to disagree with the teachings of their regular coach (Benji Heywood – the tall chap who has been sorting out the UKU’s schedules and competitions for many years).

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Coaching the St Andrews club on their 3G

The city is beautiful, and far smaller than I had imagined. I quickly realised that my distorted view on its size was due to my being enshrouded in the world of Ultimate Frisbee for the last 16 years, and Flatball (the university team at St Andrews) have had a strong presence in the community for the majority of those years. In reality, it feels like everybody knows everybody – bumping into several friends on a night out is standard, and there’s a persistent sense of intellectualism – it was no surprise that the first pub we went to was host to several sets of Go boards & stones. and students refer to the town as “The Bubble”.

st-andrews-castle-houseBenji is the Director of Ultimate at St Andrews – more than just a coach. He invited me to pre-season with the hope that I would disagree with him on various frisbee matters – in order to offer his players an alternative perspective on the game, or beyond that, to show that there were not simply one or two ways of looking at things, and that they could and should form their own perspectives and opinions on the technical and strategic aspects of the game. I found that myself and Benji have, completely independently, come up with several identical drills, methods, and catchphrases which we thought were unique to our own styles. Fortunately we did also disagree on some points, and I was happy to jump in and bring this to the players’ attentions when it happened, and explain my alternative viewpoint and the thinking behind it.

felix-and-benji-on-beachThe players at St Andrews are a driven, enthusiastic, competitive and outgoing bunch. Smack bang in the middle of the training week – just after my day of teaching Flexagon Defence – was the pre-planned social evening. The drinking games were familiar, and although it was the first time I had played “beer pong” with water, soon after we were playing an intense round of SlapCup, and through some genius social engineering on the team’s part I ended up being the loser on the first round despite having an 0.8 ace average. The night was suitably crazy – as you would expect from a town which Hugh Grant has been banned from.

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Fairly typical halls of residence

Along with the day on Flex (which was the first real ‘Flex Workshop’ – a model I’m exporting Europe-wide now), other sessions I took the lead on were centered around the “neutral stance”, give-go moves, and Hex Offence (which their second team exclusively played last year, getting them wins over Edinburgh and Aberdeen’s first teams).

Benji’s sessions were insightful and reassuring in equal measures, particularly interesting was his take on throwing dynamics, using the resistance force of the disc to exert more energy into the release. I have a lot of time for him and he’s doing fantastic work coordinating the club so they are all on the same page, pulling in the same direction and aware of their own history and development, year upon year.

st-andrews-pool-in-the-sea-2

Had a quick dip in this pool formed by the receding tide

I used to do a similar thing in Sussex, however at Sussex there are no ‘Director of [sport]’ positions, so club-management and continuity is more in the hands of the committee, whereas the coaches are expected to coordinate with the captains to run trainings in a manner conducive to the direction the club wants to go.

Both approaches have positives and negatives – for instance Benji’s more in-control role can potentially lead to a one-track view on the game; hence his decision to introduce an alternative viewpoint to his own at this year’s St Andrew’s pre-season training! Good to see such a holistic approach to training. Thank you Benji for putting it together – a great week with a great group of players, I wish them all the best for this coming UK Uni season and I look forward to seeing what comes of their Hex and Flex training!

 

felix-and-benji-on-bridge

Classic photo on the bridge at the golf course

UKU Club Nationals 2016

UKU Club Nationals 2016 is coming up on 20/21 August, and felixultimate.com can reveal there are some very exciting coverage plans currently being made! The UKU are currently putting together a media team to cover the event, including bringing in the 24/7 trucks which were seen at WUGC 2016 in London!

Regionals having been completed last weekend, below are the Nationals seedings just sent out by the UKU (Full schedules will appear on www.ukunationals.org along with other tournament information!):

Open Bracket:

1 Clapham
2 Manchester
3 Brighton City
4 Fire of London
5 BAF
6 Devon
7 Brighton Legends
8 Ka-Pow!
9 Glasgow
10 Chevron
11 Leeds
12 EMO
13 Reading
14 Flump
15 Bristol
16 Flyght Club

This is the first year that a new system has been employed, whereby the seeds are allocated to regional finishing positions based last year’s nationals results – e.g. because Chevron (N) and Manchester (N) finished 2nd and 10th at Nationals last year, the 1st and 2nd finishers from (N) regionals are seeded 2nd and 10th respectively – and with Manchester beating Chevron at Northern regionals, this means Manchester take the 2nd seed. Exciting pre-quarters to look out for are:

Ka-Pow v Glasgow
Brighton Legends v Chevron
Devon v LLLeeds
BAF v EMO

Leading to (likely) quarters:

Clapham v Ka-Pow/Glasgow
Manchester v Legends/Chevron
Brighton City v Devon/LLLeeds
Fire of London v BAF/EMO

Women’s Pools:

1 Iceni
3 SYC
6 Glasgow
8 Vurve

2 Nice Bristols
4 Leeds
5 Punt
7 Crown Jewels

Mixed Pools:

1 Reading
3 Brighton Breezy
6 SMOG
8 Birmingham

2 Black Eagles
4 JR
5 Thundering Herd
7 Cambridge

The aim is to have one, perhaps two pitches streamed live and in HD all weekend, delivered by the UKU Media Crew. Let us know who you want to hear commentating, and which games you want to see on the show pitch!

Advanced Flex Part III: The Stall 3 Game-Changer

(c) Felix Shardlow v.0.1 12th June 2016

Also available in French / en Français

For the first 3 seconds of the stall, the offence is looking for flow or continuation options. If the offence is playing well, these options are hard to prevent – nearby defenders should make efforts to contain the offence and prevent flow (or predict it and get a block), whilst other defenders not connected to the play should focus on establishing good positioning. If flow is halted and the stall count hits 3 seconds, the offence will look for a secondary, or reset option. At this point, the defence should already be working as a team to pressure these next options – using switches and sandwiches to ensure every player is marked with good positioning when the thrower looks up after 3 seconds.

With flow halted, if the PoNY defenders used a switch or a sandwich then the clear cutting option would have been denied, and the reset would have been marked quickly.
 

After stall 6, the offence will look for their reset or backup options, like a hammer, a break, or a yard-losing pass. All defenders should be minimising separation, or be sandwiching any offensive players who are near to each other – working together to be tight enough to all offensive players to apply pressure to the break/overhead/yard-loser that will be considered at stall 6. Reaching stall 6 doesn’t happen very often, so the defence can afford to put in extra effort when it does.

Flow is stopped, the thrower looks at their reset at stall 3, they are marked out, so further options are looked at at stall 6. If the defence positioned themselves effectively as a team, the thrower would likely be left with no easy option.
 

If the defenders are all conscious of when the stall count reaches 3 seconds during a point, they can focus their efforts in a coordinated way – using teamwork to attempt to punish the slight offensive error of flow having stopped. By all being on the same page with regard to when / where they should be expending effort, the defence can save energy for the moments when getting interceptions are most likely, and then focus their efforts to generate a block as a team.

Defenders are positioned well and heads-up to switching to limit options. Tightening up late in the stall reduces the chance of flow being re-started after the disc is passed (sustainable defence). The defender with yellow shorts realises their poor positioning too late.
 

The Force

The force should be ‘loose-tight-loose’ over the 10 seconds of the count – for stalls 1-3, the force should be loose and containing – ready to switch to prevent a give-go or up-line cut, and also preventing a ‘killer’ break throw or penetration move.
Stalls 4, 5 and 6 are when the force should be tight and aggressive – stopping the first ‘alternate look’ from the thrower, and applying pressure.
Stalls 7, 8 and 9 are when the force should loosen up a little again – preventing a ‘killer’ break throw and not allowing the thrower to draw a foul to reset the count.
Downfield, defenders should play tight-smart-tight against cutters – they should aim to be tight to their mark when the disc is caught (stall 0), then, if flow is halted, they should be smart and look for sandwiches / switches on stalls 3, 4 and 5, and if the disc still isn’t passed then they should make sure they are tight again at the end of the stall count when the thrower will be looking for the offensive player with the most separation to create an option.

Part III of an ongoing series:
Flexagon Defence
Advanced Flex Part I: Counter-Strategies
Advanced Flex Part II: Communication
Advanced Flex Part III: The Stall 3 Game-Changer

Source video of gifs:

Macedonia – a land of red / yellow & green

intro

Macedonia is a complicated country politically, formerly part of Yugoslavia and with political tensions that fuel daily protests in the capital where I was staying; Skopje. I won’t attempt to explain the political situation, suffice to say it touches on US / EU relations, accusations against both the current government and the former government (now the opposition), and although everyone has an opinion, the strength and leaning of these opinions tends to vary – there are counter-protests alongside the protests.

The politics run deep – the newly constructed (in neoclassical style) buildings look impressive, but to the locals they often (but not always) symbolise mis-spent government money used to cover-up the countries problems, or re-write history from a nationalist perspective, or to put pressure on Greece for denying their place at the NATO table due to a naming dispute.
protest

Every night there are protests which run through the city, with hundreds of people, flags, and whistles. A few days before my arrival the presidential office was broken into and ransacked, and evidence of the protesting was shown by colourful vandalisation of the neoclassical architecture. At one point I was nearly caught between riot police and protesters – more photos in my Google Photos album.

map

 

Frisbee

The Ultimate scene in Macedonia is in its infancy – there are a small group of ~10-15 players (the Falcons) who get together to play when they can. There are a few other players in the capital who are also occasionally heard from, but nothing regular. The nearest countries with some Ultimate activity are Bulgaria, Croatia, and Serbia, each with relatively small scenes.

My trip was organised by 10 Million Discs, a worldwide youth sports charity headed by Trent Simmons. “We work primarily with the sport of Ultimate frisbee as it is the only sport in the world to have conflict resolution built into the rules, and is the first sport without referees to have received permanent recognition by the International Olympic Committee.” They got in touch with Krenar Qoku, founder of the Youth Council of the U.S. Embassy in Skopje, who took over coordination of the project in Macedonia on the ground. He found two local players keen to spread Ultimate – Borjan and Adi – set up a number of sessions in various high schools across the city, and then got in touch with the UKU about the possibility of a qualified coach coming over on the 10MD budget. The UKU got in touch with me, and then Krenar set about packing my 9-day schedule with as many productive opportunities as possible!

High school sessions

60 pupils at one of the high school sessions in Skopje

The high school pupils in Skopje are all enthusiastic and keen to learn & play a new sport played with a frisbee. Sessions would vary in size, with greater numbers at the schools in less privileged areas where options for extracurricular activities are limited. One of the benefits of Ultimate is the limited equipment needed – one disc can give a good game to 14+ players, however a few more are needed for drills. 10MD are in the process of getting 300 discs to Macedonia, but these hadn’t arrived by the time of my visit, so I packed 12 discs in my luggage and used these at the sessions.

Zef Lush Marku high school learning about throwing

Most sessions consisted of throwing around (with a couple of technique tips), a lead pass drill (where I throw out in front of the receivers, so everyone gets the opportunity to chase down a disc), and a game of Ultimate. Most of the students could understand basic English, or their classmates would translate for them, but if not then Borjan & Adi were able to translate. Running the sessions was partly about introducing Ultimate to the pupils, but mostly about giving Borjan & Adi some ideas for approaching the sessions which they can use in the future (as the project continues after my visit ends).

Explaining the basic rules to a local Youth group

The high school sessions were leading up to a tournament between the various high schools, to be held in a few weeks. Students really appreciate the opportunity to compete against other schools in a new sport where the playing field is effectively levelled.

As well as high schools, Krenar also arranged for me to meet various local youth groups, peace corps, and all other connections he had which might help spread the game further.

Macedonia Ultimate Federation?

Students from the Faculty of Physical Education

Krenar and I met Vladimir Vuksanovic and another colleague at the Faculty of Physical Education to talk about the high-level structure of sport in Macedonia, and how Ultimate could be officially started. The meeting was very promising – they had had experience starting sports in the country already from scratch, such as field hockey, so were confident in their knowledge of the processes.

Vasil Antevski Dren high school – Krenar is at the back with me, Borjan on far right next to Adi, with the school principal centre-front

To start an Ultimate Frisbee federation, at least 5 non-governmental organisations need to be associated with the sport first, and they had contacts for NGOs that might be interested. I ran a session with the pupils at the Faculty which went really well, and Vladimir & his colleague seemed very enthusiastic about the sport and it’s self-refereed nature. Hopefully this was the start of the process of the sport to being officially recognised & supported by the authorities in Macedonia!

Delivering the coach education course

Coaching Qualification Course

As a qualified UKU Coach Educator, I ran two longer sessions which Krenar had arranged for the weekend. On Saturday, I introduced the game to a group of local teachers, players, and interested individuals by running a session where I talked through throwing / catching techniques, and then ran many drills (with many mid-drill modifications) to give the participants a good idea of drills they can run with their pupils / teams to develop them as Ultimate players.

On the Sunday, I ran a coach qualification course, using UKU material but presenting a certificate on behalf of 10 Million Discs.

8 newly qualified coaches from Macedonia, Serbia, and Croatia

For these sessions we were also joined by players from Croatia and Serbia who made the long journey to Macedonia. It was a pleasure meeting them and they ensured I stayed out far too late on Saturday night. They were already strong players, so I hope they will take the coaching knowledge back with them to help develop the scenes in their countries – they are now almost certainly the only certified Ultimate coaches there!

The Falcons -Skopje’s active local players

The Falcons

Towards the end of my stay I was invited to run a session with the Falcons. They are active players in Skopje who meet up when they can to play some Ultimate – usually only enough for 4v4, with no warmup or drills.

I took the offer as an opportunity to give the active players an idea of how the top teams train in the UK. After a warm up (which ended in competitive sprints), I demonstrated backhand and sidearm technique, giving each player some pointers for improvements whilst letting them know the strength of their current techniques.

Selfie with some of the Falcons

We went into a break force drill next (hit a cutter on the break side), which was something very new for a lot of the players, and then onto a down-line-to-huck drill, which flowed really smoothly. During the game a few strategies were introduced whilst we all slipped around on wet grass in our trainers! The benefits of studded boots were talked about at the end, after a traditional spirit circle.

 

Skopje nature

The streets in Skopje have plenty of stray dogs and cats. The cats mind their own business and are not interested in human interaction, merely concerned with survival – effectively living wild. The dogs on the other hand are keen to say hello and accompany you on your walk home – like your own personal guard dog, or just some friendly company for a short walk. In 1963 an earthquake hit Skopje and destroyed 75% of the city – many years later, there were so many stray dogs that they begun travelling in packs and attacking humans. They were all rounded up, tagged, neutered, and released back onto the streets. This has now allowed stray cat numbers to escalate.

Skopje is overlooked by a mountain, upon which a huge cross shines over the city at night (top right). I decided to venture to the top.

Many options for routes – I chose red, the steepest, and had to use my hands to climb at some points, but was able to run at others

This was a path near the bottom of the mountain

Looking back on Skopje before getting half way up. I walked from one of the high rise buildings on the far right of this photo just above the bush

Over half way up, looking back at Skopje

topofmountain

Incredible views from the top, plus getting to see what the Millennium Cross looks like up-close. For full pictures & photo-sphere versions, see my Google Photos album.

Ottoman-influenced architecture

Octagon-themed, rather than hexagonal

viewofvodno

Another morning, I was running on the other side of the city, able to see Vodno and the Millennium Cross in the distance before going over the crest

Looking away from Skopje had a sort of Japanese feel to it

Mountains in the far distance shrouded by clouds, and luckily a bird passing by

 

Round-up

Borjan Gerasimovski receiving his coach certificate & qualification

The visit just scratched the surface of properly introducing Ultimate to Macedonia, however some great connections were made, and some good methods for running all kinds of sessions were passed on. The newly qualified coaches have the potential to increase the player base hugely, and with some administrative work there is a route for an Ultimate Federation of Macedonia to be set up. If I visit again, I can see delivering more coaching courses would be hugely beneficial, especially if we coordinate with all the contacts made during this trip to ensure the courses are well attended by people who a sure to spread the sport wherever they go.

Andrijana Kolevska receiving her coach certificate & qualification

I introduced the sport to ~150 12-18 year olds whilst in Skopje, hopefully they will be able to support future projects in some way, and possibly with the introduction of discs from 10milliondiscs.org and the excitement of the tournament, they will end up starting their own teams at very low cost.

krenar-certificate

Krenar Qoku receiving his coach certificate & qualification

My advice to the local players was to create a regular day of the week for practice to encourage the playerbase to grow, and aim towards a particular competition – possibly EUCR-East next year. I hope Borjan and Adi keep up their efforts to build the scene, and I remain keen to help them in any way I can!

After this positive experience, I look forward to my next opportunity to introduce Ultimate & coaching techniques abroad (and explore the nature nearby)!

Serbian & Croatian players who attended the coaching course weekend

Thanks to Trent, Krenar, Borjan, Adi, and all the teachers, pupils and faculty members that made the journey possible & enjoyable. I hope the good work continues and I hope to see you again soon!

All photos from the trip are available here – including photo-spheres of some amazing areas!